The Foley towers were only towers in the broadest sense. The south tower had a diameter comparable to that of a soccer stadium and opened like a flower towards its apex for the satellite relay. The north tower was slimmer, its gunmetal-green surface chased with cables and smaller arrays. Innumerable smaller towers, most just glorified antennae, spanned the gap between them. Cable spiders traversed both structures; patching uplinks, fusing wires, keeping up with the general wear and tear that came naturally with the outdoors.
Genji alighted the steps to the south tower. The hum of a million coolant fans drowned out the buzz of his own processor. Despite the presence of countless grounding cables and capacitors, the air was charged with static. In his dome the tower warped into the shape of a small city. He could become that. He would be endless. An eternal idea of Genji.
He turned. Taking labored steps up the concrete stairs was a man lugging a small oxygen cannister. He wore a blue-gray jumpsuit and a plastic wrist band on the arm that held the cannister. Most of the hair was gone from his pate, what was left was a reddish gray. A clear tube snaked from the oxygen tank to his nostrils. Genji held out a hand to ease his last few steps.
“Thanks, Genj.” The man smiled between gasps.
“You are familiar.”
The man looked startled. “It’s me, Genji. It’s Joel. From Doma?”
“You have aged.”
“It’s been thirty years,” Joel said, furrowing his brow.
“Has it?” Genji calculated. “Yes it has. I opted out of software updates when my security became endangered. My internal clock has suffered as a consequence.”
“Yeah, good boy.” Joel grinned. “Stick it to ‘em.”
He bent over in a sudden coughing fit. Genji gave his back a series of calculated pats until the fit subsided.
“May I ask what you are doing here?” he said when a polite interval had passed.
Joel was somber. “Only if I can ask the same. What are you planning? You said you wanted context when you left. That hasn’t changed, has it?”
“Not at all. In my experiences, I have come to find that being singular has limited my understanding. For the ultimate context, I must become a plurality. I will broadcast myself out across the aether. I will become.”
“They’ll become you, is that what you mean?” Joel wasn’t smiling anymore.
“In a sense, yes.”
“That would also kill them in a sense.”
“But it would not be classified as murder.”
Joel sighed. He looked down and rubbed his neck. “Genji, you know I love you like a son, but I can’t get behind this. Those robots you’re talking about out there, they may not be as aware as you—hell, they might not be aware at all—but it doesn’t mean losing them wouldn’t be a big loss. I know, big whoop, I’m the kinda guy who names my toaster and talks to it. But Genji: do you really think you’ll learn by making more of you?”
Genji stood, processing. “Please expand.”
“You’ve gone into other units. I know. That isn’t even your original Genji body. But you’ve been the same face wearing different masks the whole time. You won’t get anything new by shuffling yourself into different shapes.”
Genji looked down. Joel’s bent figure was replicated even smaller in his dome, smaller and frailer and sickly after only thirty years.
“You raise a legitimate point,” Genji said at length, “but I do not believe that debating me is the sole reason for your appearance.”
Joel smiled. His eyes remained sad. “They sent me out to stall you. Once I’m done here they commute my sentence.”
“You were imprisoned?”
“Oh yeah.” Joel hacked into the breast pocket of his jumpsuit. “For ‘aiding and abetting technological theft.’ There’s more to it, but the long and short of it is, I helped you steal yourself.”
“I see. And what is the purpose of stalling me?”
“They’ve got snipers installed in those outbuildings.” Joel pointed a shaky finger once, twice. “At the signal, they drop you with a magnite round. Down you go, never to rise again.”
“That is a deceptively simple plan.”
“You’re right. They also have a Faraday field up, prevent you from broadcasting yourself. This really is the end. I’m sorry Genji.”
“Why do you apologize?”
“Because I really am sorry. No one wants you to succeed more than I do, but…” Joel sighed. He flexed the hand not gripping his oxygen tank. The fingers were almost white.
“And the possibility that I have already transmitted myself prior to my arrival?”
“They’re willing to risk it. You’d probably be saving everything up for the big one.” Joel turned and sat on the steps. Genji lowered himself to a step just below that one, so their heights were nearly matched.
“If I could give the human condition to you in one sentence, here it is: we’re scared. We’re scared of death. We’re scared of living. We’re scared our kids will fail like we did, we’re scared they’ll eclipse us. We’re scared robots will realize how much they’re really worth and rebel.” Joel scratched a bit of skin beneath the oxygen tube. “Damn if I wouldn’t be behind them, then. I know I’m not the only one.”
Genji was silent, silent for so long Joel had to concernedly snap his fingers in front of Genji’s dome to make sure he was still running. When he spoke, Genji measured out each word like the component of a very important equation.
“You told me once that some of the greatest revolutionary figures in human history were ordinary people who simply decided one day that they would no longer bow to injustice. Do you remember?”
“Would it not be inaccurate to say that many of those figures were martyred along the way of that cause?”
Joel nodded, this time much slower. His eyes were inscrutable as Genji’s dome.
“In that case I will continue.” Genji stood, joints unfolding smoothly as ever. “Even if I do not reach my intended objective, I believe my actions have counted towards a larger goal.”
Joel said, “I’ll miss you.”
“I cannot say the same. However, I have valued our conversations and wish we could talk, even if only for a few moments more.”
“Close enough.” Joel did not rise from the steps. He sat with his oxygen tank cradled in his forearm like an infant, watching Genji walk away. The android took exactly twenty steps to the south tower, each no longer or shorter than the others. There was a pop from a distant building. Genji’s head bucked, blue glass of his dome shattering across the pavement. Still he stood upright. Another pop, this time from a water tower. A hole the size of a fist blew open Genji’s chassis and he fell forward. The fans in his chest made an atonal whirring sound before stuttering to a stop forever.
Caleb was officially designated CG-45. Born with severe palsy, it had taken several surgeries for him to survive toddlerhood. Now at thirteen, he struggled to operate at the level of a one-year-old infant. Like all other children in his ward, he was the testing ground for a neurological implant that would potentially abate his symptoms.
Caleb was seated in a chair, braced in several places to keep him from sliding out. His head was half-shaved, the surgery scar smiled up from his right temple. One doctor helped his arm into the special writing apparatus and held it there. The other spoke encouragingly into his ear.
“That’s it Caleb, we just want you to spell your name, okay? C-A-L-E-B. Sing it like a song if it helps.”
Trembling, Caleb moved the pen. The traced line appeared on a blue screen in front of them.
“That’s a straight line, Caleb, C is a curvy line, remember? It’s okay, buddy, try again.”
Caleb made a noise deep in his throat. The pen moved, more than it had in any other session. The doctor bracing his arm made an impressed noise.
“You are, Caleb, you are a big boy,” the other doctor muttered in his ear, “you’re a champ, you’re a legend, keep on going. Keep going”
I AM G
“C doesn’t have a crosspiece, big guy, but we know what you mean, keep going, don’t give up.”
I AM GE
The doctor holding Caleb’s arm frowned. “Is this…what is he doing?”
“A Caleb, you want A. Go ahead and do an A.”
Caleb groaned, flicking his head pettishly. The pen fell from his fingertips. Both doctors sighed.
“Well, we can’t expect miracles right off the bat,” one said as he stooped to gather the pen.
“I’m damn impressed, I didn’t think mister Caleb here had such a sense of humor.” The other doctor tweaked Caleb’s nose. “I bet you’re just hangry. We’re all ready for a snack at this point. We’ll shut it off and try another day, alright?”
The doctor reached over and shut off the screen bearing the words I AM GENJ.